In the early days of the Cold War, the US proposed that the UN should control nuclear resources and ensure their peaceful use. Similarly, with the advent of powerful artificial intelligence (AI), governments must control its military aspects and ensure that its gains accrue to all. Although it may seem naive and quixotic, early efforts to place constraints on military uses of AI are necessary, given the promise and perils of this new technology.
It may take years before countries like China, Russia, the US, and the EU agree to limit military uses of AI. However, simply beginning conversations about the topic with allies, as well as with competitors, can exercise cooperation muscles. These conversations can provide valuable insights into how each country approaches military uses of AI and what assumptions they make about one another that could be dangerous.
Private sector, academic, and government groups can discuss what uses of AI are seen as beyond the pale and which need protection against. Even short of an agreement, this information can maintain stability in the face of rapidly developing technology.
In February, the US state department proposed 12 non-legally binding norms to govern military uses of AI. These include an exhortation that humans should always control any launch of nuclear weapons, and that the Geneva Conventions should apply. The US state department emphasised that “we have an obligation to create strong norms of responsible behaviour concerning military uses of AI”.
Although the efforts may seem limited, urgent steps should be taken to double down on them. The danger of sleepwalking into conflict is real given this era of new technology that we do not fully understand and cannot control. As ChatGPT and similar technologies develop, they will soon be capable of writing code viruses more potent and damaging than any we have seen before.
Sceptics may argue that even 75 years of painstakingly negotiated arms control agreements have not banished nuclear weapons from the world. Nevertheless, negotiations have succeeded in the most important measure of all. Since the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have not once been used in war.